On the Road With Oregon Bounty Day 2: Creating a Perfect Heirloom
Today, I’m on a mission to find the perfect tomato. Not the watery, flavorless kind you find at the grocery store in February. No, I’m talking heirloom. Big, beefy orbs of succulence, in every shape and color. The kind that scream for a slab of fresh mozzarella and a few basil leaves, or get tossed with a little olive oil, garlic and penne. The kind that rule August and hang on – thankfully – through September.
That’s how I found myself among hundreds of tomato bushes on a small plot of land outside of Newberg. I made my journey with Jason Stoller-Smith, chef of the Dundee Bistro. There, Lee and Dr. Amy Does raise tomatoes. Not for the money, but for the passion. Both have “real” jobs in addition to their tomato obsession – he’s a technical writer/illustrator, she’s a college professor. They have one customer: Jason. No farmers markets, no u-pick, no relying on the whims of multiple restaurant chefs. It’s the essence of the chef/farmer connection you find in the Willamette Valley and all over Oregon.
The Does grow tomatoes because they love them; more precisely, because Jason loves them. In fact, he buys everything they grow – a few hundred pounds per week during the eight-week-or-so growing season. He’s their only customer. For Lee and Amy, that’s just fine. They don’t want to get big, they just want to grow great heirlooms for a chef who appreciates their work, and for customers who swoon at Jason’s heirloom salads and dishes like crisp leg of duck with lentils and tomatoes.
Lee and Amy scour the Internet for new and interesting seed varieties (from as far away as Africa and Ireland), then raise their seedlings in a local greenhouse before planting in early May. In any given year, the Does raise up to 30 varieties – Northern Lights, Russian Krim, Flamé. By late July, Jason is anxiously calling for a delivery update.
For Jason, whose cuisine is dictated by the rhythms of the seasons, August and September are tomato nirvana. Even his bistro burger made with local organic beef — tomato-less most of the year – gets in on the act during the summer with a thick slab of Brandywine or Cherokee Purple.
After we traipsed through the vines, pants dusted by tomato pollen, Lee and Amy sent me back on the road with a big basket of multi-colored specimens, ripe and ready for a simple meal of heirloom and grilled bread. Mission accomplished.
There are 65 restaurants throughout the state that are featuring special prix fixe menus matched with Oregon wine, beer or spirits. Like Jason, these chefs will be working with farmers of their own, shifting as the tomato season gives way to autumn squashes, apples, pears, and other fall delights. Take a peak at samples of their menus, or download the Oregon Bounty Recipe Book, with over 120 recipes from Oregon’s top chefs and intimate inns. Then, plan a getaway and sample what’s fresh in your favorite part of the state.
Check back on Monday… it’s all about clam chowder on the Oregon Coast. Cheers!
For more information on heirloom tomatoes and the restaurants mentioned here, or ideas on what to do in Oregon this October and November, please visit www.traveloregon.com/Bounty.